The Oakland A’s have started letting some of the kids play, and that means a lot of firsts by players we’ve been following for years in the minors. On Thursday, Chad Pinder finally connected on his first MLB home run, which is exciting because it’s one step closer to my autographed 2014 AN Day Stockton Name Tag being worth something.
Now that a handful of the new guys have gone yard, let’s take a moment to enjoy it. Here’s a rundown of a few firsts, and what small bit of info we might glean from each.
Date: July 16
Pitcher: R.A. Dickey (Tor)
Plate appearance: 5th
It didn’t take Healy long to get on the board in the bigs. In just his second game for Oakland, he went deep against a former Cy Young winner, which is almost certainly how he’ll describe it to his kids rather than saying it was off a 41-year-old knuckleballer. It was also his first MLB hit!
Of course, we know now that was just the beginning of a monster half-season debut for Healy. But if that homer looks suspiciously like all of his long balls, there’s a reason: all 12 have been pulled to left field, with three of them hooked perfectly into the corner like that.
Time to start the office pool for when Healy will hit his first opposite-field jack.
Date: Sept. 19
Pitcher: Brad Peacock (Hou)
Plate appearance: 68th
It’s hard to remember after a relatively modest minor league career at the plate, but Maxwell was a second-round draft pick largely based on his power. And then, several years later, it was his power during a Hulkian hot streak in Triple-A that earned him his ticket to the bigs. So it really shouldn’t surprise us to see things like this:
That’s an opposite-field blast over the high wall in right-center, at night at the Coliseum. And just like with Healy, it turns out this hit is a good representation of the power stroke Maxwell has demonstrated so far. Of his seven extra-base hits, only one of them has landed to the right of second base.
Back in July, A’s special assistant Grady Fuson mentioned (via A’s Farm) that Maxwell had been learning to pull the ball more, so hopefully we will see that dimension of his game emerge next year — not that I’m complaining at all about some oppo pop. In the meantime, he’s off to a good start (111 wRC+ in 89 PAs) and it’s nice to see some of that muscle showing through already.
Date: Sept. 17
Pitcher: Yu Darvish (Tex)
Plate appearance: 51st
Wendle isn’t a slugger, but he’s not a minnow either. He managed double-digit dingers each of the last two years in Triple-A, along with a ton of doubles and triples. He won’t clear the fences often, but he shows here that he can take advantage of a hanging mistake by the pitcher. It even came to lead off the game, in true A’s fashion!
Of course, it also came off of Yu Darvish, so ... does it really even count? (The A’s won 11-2.)
Date: Sept. 29
Pitcher: Ariel Miranda (Sea)
Plate appearance: 52nd
Pinder is decidedly a bat-first player, so it’s good to see him starting to warm up at the plate. He hit a few doubles last week, and now he’s added his first homer. It came off a lefty who gives up a ton of homers, but, dude, chill.
Pinder is an aggressive hitter who doesn’t walk a lot, so he’ll need to make a lot of contact in order to thrive. His current 14.5% swinging strike rate won’t cut it in that regard, so hopefully he can improve on that in a bigger sample next year.
There are two more youngsters who have been called up but haven’t yet homered, though it’s hard to hold it against them since they’ve barely played. Matt Olson and Renato Nunez are supposed to be the premier sluggers of this bunch, but they’re also still just 22 years old and they’ve only combined for 34 plate appearances in sporadic doses, so it’s fair that they’ve been relatively quiet. Unless one of them gets frisky this weekend, we’ll have to wait until next year to see their first long balls.
For his part, Olson has had an intriguing pro debut. He only has one hit through 19 plate appearances (a seeing-eye grounder through the shift), but he’s walked six times. That’s not a surprise given his minor league track record, but what is strange is that he’s only struck out twice. Taking it further, he’s seen 70 pitches so far and only swung and missed at three of them. Granted, he’s barely swinging at all (28.6% of the time, just over half as often as Khris Davis), but I still expected to see more whiffing out a guy whose K rates have often been a legitimate concern. Fun with small samples! Meanwhile, there’s not much to report on Nunez; he’s 2-for-15 with no walks and a few strikeouts.
Congrats to the new guys on all of their MLB firsts!